Responding to political pressure regarding her decision to perform at an upcoming Israeli music festival, singer Lana Del Rey initially wrote on Twitter two weeks ago: “I believe music is universal and should be used to bring us together. We don’t always agree with the politics of the places we play within or even in our own country.... I would like to remind you that performing in Tel Aviv is not a political statement or a commitment to the politics there, just as singing here in California does not mean my views are in alignment with my current government’s opinions or sometimes inhuman actions.”
But then, in an about-face over the weekend – less than a week before the festival – she announced she would be canceling her planned appearance: “It’s important for me to perform in both Palestine and Israel and treat all my fans equally. Unfortunately it hasn’t been possible to line up both visits with such short notice and therefore I’m postponing my appearance at the Meteor Festival until a time when I can schedule visits for both my Israeli and Palestinian fans, as well as hopefully other countries in the region.”
Leaving aside the overall pernicious effects of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, Lana Del Rey’s statements are in and of themselves contradictory and hypocritical.
First she said that performing in a location is not a political statement. But then she claimed she could not perform in certain locations without a reciprocal performance in other locations – itself a political statement.
These cannot both be true. If performing at a music festival is not political, it would not suddenly become so depending on whether a parallel concert was booked somewhere else.
Second, Del Rey described a standard that when it comes to geopolitical conflict, artists ought to “treat fans equally,” and that in order to do so and remain apolitical they should either ensure reciprocal performances in areas representative of each side, or not perform at all.
But not even Lana Del Rey has followed the standard she set. For example, she has performed in Russia without performing in Crimea or Chechnya; in China without performing in Taiwan or Tibet; and in Turkey without performing in Kurdistan or Northern Cyprus.
Indeed, if on her next visit to the Middle East she is truly hoping to book “other countries in the region,” she would have to visit just about every country in the Middle East to ensure equality among all the parties to various conflicts.
Of course, no parallel is perfect – but if the standard is so strict as to exclude only Israel, while including authoritarian countries like Russia, China, and Turkey, it just reeks of pure bias rather than mere hypocrisy.
In any case, there is a difference between waiting until you can schedule something in both areas of a dispute, versus withdrawing from a scheduled performance in one area due to pressure from supporters of the other.
All of this begs the following questions: Why Israel? Why are only performances in Israel dependent on there being a performance somewhere else? What changed between her first and second statements that made her no longer believe in the first? And how does disappointing her fans by canceling a concert appearance because of their citizenship achieve her stated goal of bringing people together through music? Despite her best efforts to insist otherwise, Lana Del Rey’s cancellation was very clearly a political statement and very clearly a result of pressure. It is just the latest example of Israel being held to a different standard than other countries. By caving to this type of bullying and intimidation, Del Rey has threatened the very independence of music as a means of universal human connection capable of transcending politics and conflict.
I would encourage Ms. Del Rey to reconsider her position. She has a wonderful opportunity to share her music and energy with fans who were eagerly anticipating her performance. Fulfilling her commitment to them does not preclude her from booking future visits on different terms.
The writer is the executive director of the J’accuse Coalition for Justice, a nonprofit organization dedicated to combating antisemitism and anti-Israel bias.